My Recap of the 2019 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago

I went to the 40th National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago last week (July 31 to August 4). This is the 6th time I’ve been at The National. Going to world’s biggest sports memorabilia show for five days takes a lot out of you, from standing and walking around most of the day, to the visual overload of cards, memorabilia, cards, jerseys, cards, photos, cards, game-used items and cards. 

But I have finally recovered, so here’s my recap of my experience at the 2019 National Sports Collectors Convention. 

A Dearth of Cheap Wax

Every fall and spring at the Chicago Sports Spectacular, and every other year when The National is held in Chicago, there was always an abundance of cheap wax — from complete sets for $3 to unopened boxes for $5. That was generally not the case this year, and it frustrated the hell out of me. At past shows, I could usually pick up a few cheap boxes and a few cheap sets. But this year, not so much. 

Apparently, boxes of junk wax (think 1989 Topps Baseball or 1991-92 Upper Deck Hockey) went from being a $5 item to an $8-to-$10 item. I believe this is because a certain entrepreneur is telling everyone who will listen that junk wax is going to be valuable now, causing dealers to suddenly think that 1990-91 Score Hockey should be sold for $10 a box. 

Likewise, I can usually find one or two tables with a mountain of complete sets from the 1980s and 1990s — and sometimes the early 2000s — for a couple of bucks each. This year, I didn’t find any such tables, and any dealers who had junk wax-era sets wanted $10 or more. I had my heart set on finding a complete 1989 Bowman Baseball set for $10 or less, but I guess $15 is the going rate now. I also wanted a complete 1989 Upper Deck Baseball set, and always see them for $35 or $40. This year, they were tagged as high as $75! 

I did manage to pick up three boxes of 1990-91 Pro Set Hockey Series One for $8 each, a box of 1991-92 O-Pee-Chee Premier Hockey for $5, and a box of 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Stickers for $5. When I originally tried to buy the OPC stickers, the dealer pulled out his phone, went to Ebay, and told me that the last box sold online for $16 plus shipping, so he’d give it to me for $20. Four days later, it was still there, so he begrudgingly gave it to me for $5.

Look, I respect that dealers incur a high cost to rent space at The National. But junk wax doesn’t suddenly become more valuable because one guy says it should be. Value is about supply and demand. There is still quite a large supply, and not enough demand to make a $5 item into a $10 item. 

On the last day of the show, I did find a dealer with some cheap hockey sets, and purchased a complete 1994-95 Leaf Limited Hockey set for $3. I have since put the set into pages and a binder, because it is too awesome to keep it boxed. 

Baseball Follies

Besides failing to find a few “junk wax era” baseball sets on the cheap, I also wanted to find the infamous Billy Ripken “F*ck Face” card from the 1989 Fleer Baseball set, along with the censored variants. A dealer had the curse-word card, the “black box” variant, and the “black scribble” variant. His asking price was $75 for the trio, which was about $55 more than I thought it should be. (The FF card sells for about $10 to $20 on Ebay, while most of the other variations seem to be a few dollars each.) Granted, I did not stop at every table looking for this card, though I should have made that more of a priority. 

Not a Lot of Vintage Hockey

There wasn’t a great deal of sellers with vintage hockey  cards; maybe about 20% had some hockey, while about 10% had hockey cards prior to 1980. That made building out my 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set difficult, as one dealer wanted way too much for old hockey. Another had some near-mint commons for $1 each, which I snagged. A third dealer had quite a bit of vintage hockey, but his starting prices were also kind of high. 

Shout Out to Fellow Puck Junk Bloggers

On Thursday, I finally met Travis Shaw, who has been a contributor to Puck Junk for over a year. We walked the show floor for a bit and commented on how neither of us could find what we were looking for. Then on Saturday, I met up with Tim Parish (a.k.a. “The Real DFG”) and his wife Jess and hung out with them and traded some cards. 

Hockey Trade Night

Myself and two new friends, Mark and Aaron, hosted a “Hockey Trade Night” on Friday after The National wrapped up for the day. About 20 people came. Everyone had fun. We had a free raffle, which allowed me to clear a lot of “puck junk” out of my closet and into the hands of lucky winners.

Unfortunately, I was too busy running the raffle, ordering pizza and just generally making sure that things were running smoothly to get much trading done.

But I did make a few trades. I got a Jeremy Roenick parallel card numbered 1/10, a Jake Allen rookie card, a Nolan Patrick Young Guns rookie card, and a game-used card with swatches of jerseys of Daniel and Henrik Sedin. 

Overall, hockey trade night was a lot of fun. That’s not just my opinion, either; everyone who saw me the next two days told me how much they enjoyed our get-together for puckheads. 

Custom Cards

Both Panini and PSA had photo booths set up where they would take your picture and put it on a trading card. Panini would put you on a “Rated Rookie” card, which was cool. Unfortunately, I forgot about it until Sunday, and by then I was already leaving the show.

But I did go to the PSA booth and get myself put on a 1909 Sweet Caporal (i.e. “T206”) baseball card, and it was indeed “sweet.” I opted for the Chicago Cubs, since the White Sox were not a choice, though Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Detroit were. I think I would have made a great old timey baseball player, don’t you? 

I Skipped the Redemptions 

I got three redemption packs from Upper Deck on Wednesday, and two of them had the exact same cards. It didn’t matter that there weren’t any autographs — those are bonuses, after all — but the collation seemed kind of poor, so I decided to spend my money on specific hockey cards that I wanted, instead of building a redemption set. 

Cool Hockey Pickups

Speaking of which, I pretty much bought every Chris Chelios rookie card that I could easily find.

There were probably others, but these were easily found and priced around $8 to $10 each, which is about what I want to pay for them. 

I also picked up two Chelios autographed cards and three Chelios game-used cards. (Shout out to Tim for giving me the stick card in the upper-right corner of the above picture.) One “grail” of mine is that 1993 Classic autograph card of Chelios in the upper-left corner. Somehow, that card has eluded me for 26 years. The dealer that I bought it from got his from a pack back in 1993, and even knocked a few bucks off his asking price because he said he was glad that it was going to a Chelios fan.

I also got these two high-end rookie cards of former Blackhawks Vincent Hinostroza and Kyle Baun for cheap. (Thanks, Mark!) 

Probably the most “high-end” card that I purchased was this “mid-range” Alexander Ovechkin rookie card from the 2005-06 Bee  Hive Hockey set. 

I also added five more Jeremy Roenick cards to my JR collection — the shiny red card that I traded for, plus four that I purchased on the sales floor.

Going to the National for five days gave me ample time to dig through quarter boxes, where I found almost 200 cheap rookie cards that I needed for various sets. 

I Won a Raffle!

Well, I didn’t actually win a raffle. Upper Deck held a raffle each day, but I only participated in their Sunday drawing. Another collector won a large, 22″ by 28″ poster of Jeremy Roenick, signed by JR in gold ink. After he won that prize, he turned around and immediately handed it to me. I asked him what I could give him for it, but he said he didn’t want anything and walked off. I was floored. I wish I took a picture of the guy so if I ever see him again I can thank him. That act of generosity is what makes me love this hobby so much! 

While I did wish that I could find more vintage hockey cards and more cheap wax, I still had a great time. I got to hang out with some old friends and make new friends, run a successful hockey get-together, and buy many cards that I needed, without spending every single dollar that I brought. 

And though I usually only go to the National when it is in Chicago, I am considering going to the show when it is in Atlantic City next year in 2020. 

Did you go to the National this year? What was your experience like? 

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk


Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

8 thoughts on “My Recap of the 2019 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago”

  1. Wonderful post! I felt like I was there. Thanks for helping me save the airfare to Chicago!

    Three observations/questions for you that may be worth a follow-up post:

    1. You say the junk era packs/boxes from the 1990s are rising. Are they a good investment now because people have/are actually throwing them out? Has eBay artificially inflated the prices and creating a second bubble?

    2. What are your thoughts about factory-issued auto cards? Are there too many of those being produced for them to hold their value over time?

    3. I love collecting certain sets, but buying boxes often results in lots of commons. What do you do with your common cards?

    Keep posting. Thanks!

    1. Hi Mike. Thank you for reading.

      In short:

      1. There is still a ton of junk wax era stuff. Dealers think they can get for it now because one guy is saying that they are good investments. Plus, collectors sometimes buy unopened boxes hoping to pull a mint copy of a key card and get it graded as a PSA 10 or BGS 10. But the odds of that are still long.

      2. I think there are too many factory-issued auto cards of non-stars, which most collectors don’t really care about. In a given set, cards that are autographed by guys like Crosby, McDavid, and Ovechkin are short-printed; meaning, there might be 500 copies of a card signed by Player A, but only 100 copies signed by Crosby. But I’d say most factory-issued autographed cards sell for $3 to $5 for non-stars.

      3. I wish I had an easy answer for this. I try to trade them, but that is time consuming. I sold some to a dealer, but didn’t get much ($10 in store credit for a 3,200-card box). So I am going to try donating them and see how that goes.

  2. Glad you all had a good time. The National is one thing I miss from my Chicago days. I’ll keep a lookout for any Roenick cards out here in Utah.

  3. I have also noticed an uptick in prices for junk wax era cards and sets. There is zero reason for it as there is still way too much product especially unopened boxes everywhere. Its most likely a small group of dealers who have decided to try to artificially inflate the prices online and other dealers and collectors are just following suit hoping they can sell their mountains of cards from that era for a much higher price. I don’t see it working as there are still certain places you can pick up junk wax era sets and boxes on the super cheap if you take the time to look hard enough. I enjoy collecting junk wax era product as it brings me back to my childhood and doesn’t break the bank.

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